Dawson Pass Trail - Pitamakan Pass Trail Loop
Includes North Shore Trail, No Name Lake, Dawson Pass, Pitamakan Overlook, Pitamakan Pass, Pitamakan Lake, Old Man Lake.
The Dawson-Pitamakan Trail Loop is without question one of the most spectacular hikes in Glacier National Park, and is definitely one of our favorites. Located in the Two Medicine Area of Glacier Park Montana, this day hike is a 18.8 mile trek across three mountain passes- Dawson Pass, "Upper" Pitamakan Pass and Pitamakan Pass. (Note: this mileage is according to the National Park Service.) Interestingly, of all the trails in Glacier Park (over 800 miles of trails), the Dawson-Pitamakan Trail is one of the only a few true loops in the entire park.
Fortunately, the Dawson - Pitamakan Loop just happens to be located in some of the most breathtaking and scenic landscapes found anywhere in North America. The Dawson Pitamakan Trail Loop is one of the best hikes in Glacier Park, and if you're in good shape, we highly recommend it!
Trailhead: Two Medicine Campground
Trailhead: North Shore Trail Trailhead
Distance: 18.0 miles (Round Trip Loop)
Elevation Gain: 2,935 vertical feet
Elevation Loss: 2,765 vertical feet
Note: This distance is according to the National Park Service.
Which way is the best?
Our reasons are two fold... One reason is that the lighting will be in your favor the entire way if you go this direction, so your photographs will turn out better. The second reason is the simple fact that theNorth Shore Trail hike is basically flat, and once you begin the ascent to Dawson Pass, you're climbing about 2,000 feet in a little over 2 miles. This is quite a workout, but once you reachDawson Pass, your hike is quite gradual (and often times nearly flat) all the way to "Upper" Pitamakan Pass, and the hike is then down hill all the way back to the Two Medicine Campground(with only a mild climb in elevation near the east end of Rising Wolf Mountain just before you reach the campground). So instead of spending a large portion of your day ascending, you're getting the ascent over with right away so you can "coast" the rest of the day. This makes for a far more enjoyable hike in our opinion. We've hiked the Dawson-Pitamakan Trail Loop both ways, and we very much prefer starting with Dawson Pass rather than Pitamakan Pass.
North Shore Trail (First 3 miles)
The first leg of your hike around the Dawson Pass Trail - Pitamakan Pass Trail Loop is Glacier Park's North Shore Trail. You will cross a foot bridge right at the campground, and there will be a sign at the far end of the bridge showing you where to go (head towards Dawson Pass). This 3 mile trail is nearly flat as it follows the north shore of Two Medicine Lake. You will get some great views of not only Two Medicine Lake, but also ofSinopah Mountain, Grizzly Mountain and Painted Teepee. If you're timing is good, you'll get to walk through areas of remarkable patches of beargrass. Once you get to the South Shore Trail and Twin Falls junction, STAY RIGHT to begin heading towards Dawson Pass.
No Name Lake (mile 5.0)
At about 4.7 miles into your Glacier Park hiking adventure, you'll encounter a junction that takes you to No Name Lake and No Name Backcountry Campground. The lake is only a few hundred yards from the main trail, so if you want to take a peek at it, go right ahead, but don't spend any time at No Name Lake because you've got a big day ahead of you!
Dawson Pass (mile 6.7)
The hike from No Name Lake to Dawson Pass (7,500 feet) is quite strenuous, and is definitely the most tiring section of the entire hike. You'll climb about 2,000 vertical feet in just over 2 miles. Dawson Pass in Glacier Park rests on the Continental Divide, and it provides remarkable views of incredible mountains to the west. Far below you is the remote Nyack Creek Area, and iconic giants such as Mount Stimson (one of the tallest peaks in Glacier National Park) and Mount Phillips (with is home to Lupfer Glacier) rises up from the deep Nyack Valley floor. Directly to the north of you is Flinsch Peak, a sharp matterhorn that you will walk beside on your way to Cut Bank Pass. By the way, there are usually quite a few bighorn sheep ewes and lambs along this section of the hike, so keep an eye out for them!
The Dawson-Pitamakan Loop in Glacier National Park follows the Continental Divide Northward. Far below you is the remote Nyack Creek Area, and gigantic peaks such as Mount Phillips (see photo above) rises from the the valley floor to the west. This is some of the best hiking in Glacier Park.
Another view along your Dawson Pass Trail - Pitamakan Pass Trail Loop hike between Dawson Pass and Pitamakan Overlook, along the Continental Divide. The large peak in the background is Mount Stimson, one of the tallest peaks in Glacier National Park.
During your hike along the Dawson-Pitamakan Trail Loop in Glacier Park, you will hike around the west side of Flinsch Peak. This sharp matterhorn dominates the scenery to the east, and it rises directly above Old Man Lake.
This is a view of Old Man Lake to the east along your hike northward on the Continental Divide portion of the Dawson-Pitamakan Trail Loop inGlacier National Park.
The vastness of the scenery along the Continental Divide portion of your Dawson-Pitamakan Trail Loop in Glacier National Park is breathtaking as you hike northward. Photographs to a very poor job capturing it.
Pitamakan Overlook (approx. mile 8.0)
The hike between Dawson Pass and the Pitamakan Overlook (8,099 feet) is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful hikes in Glacier Park. Words cannot begin to explain what your eyes will see. You will walk along theContinental Divide and see miles of gigantic glacier carved mountains, as well as hike directly above Glacier Park's Old Man Lake to the east that rests below Flinsch Peak. Once you pass Flinsch Peak, Mount Morgan will begin to dominate the skyline to the north. This entire section of your Glacier Park hike is relatively level and incredibly enjoyable and you head straight north along the Continental Divide. At the end of this long stretch, the trail climbs slightly and turns a little towards the west, and then takes an abrupt turn towards the east. At this exact point is where you'll see the Pitamakan Overlook. It's a long, narrow rock ridge that heads straight west for only a few hundred yards, and we highly recommend that you walk this short but amazing ridge. The view of Mount Stimson, Mount Pinchot and Eaglehead Mountain directly to the west is breathtaking. This view makes it very obvious why we feel the Dawson-Pitamakan Trail Loop is one of the premiere hikes in Glacier National Park.
The Pitamakan Overlook in Glacier Park is this narrow ridge that takes you to an incredible vantage point to enjoy Mount Stimson (far right),Mount Pinchot (center) and Eaglehead Mountain (left).
You'll get a great view of Mount Stimson from the Pitamakan Overlook. Mount Stimson is one of tallest peaks in Glacier National Park. The Dawson-Pitamakan Trail Loop is definitely one of the best hikes in Glacier Park to get a glimpse of this remote giant.
Here's Shannon hiking towards "Upper" Pitamakan Pass after enjoying the view from the Pitamakan Overlook. The Dawson-Pitamakan Trail Loop is one of our favorite hikes in Glacier Park Montana.
Shannon has just left the Pitamakan Overlook and is heading for "Upper" Pitamakan Pass. The large peak to the north of "Upper" Pitamakan Passis McClintock Peak.
"Upper" Pitamakan Pass (approx. mile 9.4)
As you hike around Mount Morgan (to your right), you'll reach "Upper" Pitamakan Pass, which gives you your first views of the eastern landscape. "Upper" Pitamakan Pass is marked by a small pile of rocks called a cairn, and the views are tremendous from this remarkable vantage point. You'll see Pitamakan Lake below you to the east, as well as several unnamed lakes. You'll also get your first good look at Rising Wolf Mountainto the south, which is the mountain you've been hiking around all day without realizing it. To the northwest, you'll get a great view of Blackfoot Mountain's famous Pumpelly Glacier. This is a great place to rest and have lunch before you continue your hike. And here's some great news: the rest of the hike is all downhill from here!!! (By the way, the trail splits here. Make sure you stay to the right or you'll end up at the bottom the Nyack!)
This is the cairn on "Upper" Pitamakan Pass in Glacier Park. Note the spectacular view to the west behind the cairn. If you like hiking in Glacier Park, the Dawson-Pitamakan Trail Loop is definitely a hike to consider taking!
From "Upper" Pitimakan Pass you'll get a really great view of the famous Pumpelly Glacier that rests on the south face of Blackfoot Mountain in Glacier National Park.
Once you're finished enjoying the view on "Upper" Pitamakan Pass in Glacier National Park, as you hike your way down to Pitamakan Pass you'll be greeted by the monstrous Rising Wolf Mountain to the south.
Pitamakan Pass (appox. mile 10.2)
The rest of this remarkable Glacier Park hiking experience is all downhill. As you work your way towards Pitamakan Pass, you hike directly towards the towering Rising Wolf Mountain to the south, and you'll once again see the sharp matterhorn of Flinsch Peak just to the west of Rising Wolf Mountain. You will then hike along a ridge with Pitamakan Lake directly below you to your left (north) and Old Man Lake is to your right (south), just below Flinsch Peak. Once you reach Pitamakan Pass, you will begin a rather steep descent down to Old Man Lake and Old Man Backcountry Campground, where you can use your water filter/pump you replenish your water bottles (the lake is only about a third of a mile from the main trail).
Hikers just about to reach Pitamakan Pass. These were among the only hikers we met along the entire 17 mile long Dawson Pass - Pitamakan Pass Trail Loop. This ridge is fun section of this Glacier Park hike because you're directly above Pitamakan Lake to your left and Old Man Lake to your right (see below).
As you reach Pitamakan Pass along the Dawson-Pitamakan Trail Loop, you'll hike directly above Pitamakan Lake to the north (to your left).
Old Man Lake & Backcountry Campground (mile 12.0)
Again, once you've reached the valley floor after leaving Pitamakan Pass, Glacier Park's Old Man Lake and Old Man Backcountry Campground is only about a third of the mile from the main trail, and is a great place to rest, enjoy a great view, and use your water filter/pump to replenish your water bottles.
Two Medicine Campground (mile 18.0)
It's all down hill to the Two Medicine Campground...well ALMOST! Just before you round the corner around the east flank of Rising Wolf Mountain, there is an annoying elevation gain just when you're legs really aren't in the mood for it. Fortunately it doesn't last too long and the trail again levels off as you approach the trailhead. The Dawson-Pitamakan Trail Loop is undoubtedly one of the premiere Glacier Park hikes, and really the only TRUE LOOP in Glacier Park. We highly recommend this awe-inspiring hike, that is if you are in good physical condition!
We are about 5 miles from the Two Medicine Campground in this photo. The hike is a pleasant, comfortable descent.